A good friend of mine, Pastor Dan Braga sent along to me Andrew Sullivan’s article entitled, “I Used to be A Human Being.” Sullivan writes, “The Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.”
The journey into the practice of silence and solitude or some form of sabbath rest is battered and assaulted at every turn. I recall my mother lamenting one Sunday morning back around 1960 the elimination of Sunday blue laws in New York that prohibited grocery stores from opening on Sunday. Her words were simple, “We don’t need that.” She was affirming the reality now erased from our general community consciousness that Sunday was for rest. Sullivan, in his article particularly charges the arrival of our smart phones only a decade ago as the new and devastating intruder on our space where silence could once live.
What captured my attention regarding Sullivan’s thoughts was his insight regarding the relationship between silence- sabbath- and imagination. “But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.” Silence, certainly when practiced faithfully leads to self-integration. We move past our fragmented and fringed living to an experience where our soul becomes more solid and whole. We move from the circumference of our being to the center of our soul through silence. Without silence we live scattered and superficial. We become dulled by a narrowness of noise that over time deadens the soul.
Silence before God, which forms the solid soul becomes the pathway to a healthy imagination. The soul that has space to breathe, to hear, to see, to smell and to touch finds life’s simple realities pointing beyond themselves in their beauty and goodness to God’s presence.
I am fortunate to live near woods where my screened in porch, my favorite room in our home, allows the singing birds to enter my times of silence. This past summer and now fall season is filled with blue-jays crying out in their unique song. Each time I hear them I remember as a young boy their crying voice among the pine trees of our church camp where our family would spend time in the Adirondack Mountains each Memorial Day weekend. The blue jay’s voice now leads to more. A pathway to memories. A daily reminder of God’s presence over the decades instilling faith that reaches back generations in our family. Memories of ordinary and faithful parents who worked, and gave and loved and worshipped, come along with the jay’s cry. In silence emerges a sense of being that is grounded and anchored traversing along the ordinary to God’s presence here and now. The soul is deepened and then . . .expands. Imagination begins to flourish in the wide open spaces of silence where faith experiences the Trinitarian God who lives and moves and has his being in the blue jay’s cry and beyond in the quiet and calm of the silence. A sacramental consciousness is awakened and nourished. Imagination grows in God and about God.
Sullivan suggests a simple discipline that once a week we find a 24 hour period to put our phones away along with our other electronic gadgets and allow space for the silence. Not a bad idea if we wish to imagine more.